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Chopped Review: Viewer’s Choice Baskets

This week on Chopped, the contestants compete using mystery basket ingredients chosen by viewers.

The Contestants:
John, executive chef
Tre, chef and restaurant owner
Rory, chef and restaurant owner
Luke, executive chef

This Week’s Judges: Amanda Freitag; Geoffrey Zakarian; Scott Conant.

Chopped pic

The Appetizer Round: The chefs have 20 minutes to create an appetizer using mystery basket ingredients chosen by viewers via Pinterest: durian (one of the judges’ least favorite ingredients), lime gelatin, imitation crabmeat, and crunchy cheese curls.

John presents a Crab Ceviche Tostada with Lime Gelee. Unfortunately, the judges do not feel that he successfully married the ingredients, an opinion that was not helped by John failing to get the durian on all of the plates – though some may say that the judge that didn’t get the durian was actually the winner in this case.

Tre embraces the roots of the durian and creates Cheese Curl Encrusted Fish Sticks with Durian Coconut Sauce, a move that impresses the judges.

Rory also embraces the durian, using it liberally in her Vietnamese Summer Rolls; unfortunately, the judges are not at all impressed with this decision and rule her dish nearly inedible.

Luke creates Cucumber Salad with Durian and Lime Gelatin Puree, which the judges declare to be nicely plated and balanced, though they are not impressed with his use of the cheese curls.

The judges quite rightfully declare this round a general failure, and the decision of who to chop ultimately comes down to who got the ingredients onto the plates, sending John home.

The Dinner Round: The contestants have 30 minutes to create an entrée containing ingredients chosen by viewers via Facebook: whole chicken in a can, clam chowder, potato tots, and skirt steak.

Tre creates Chipotle-spiced Chicken Cake, Soy Marinated Skirt Steak, and Seafood Béchamel, but ultimately makes the same mistake that sent John home in the previous round and fails to get the tots on his plate.

Rory gets commended for her creative use of the tots in her Seared Skirt Steak and Tot Hash with Chicken Chowder Sauce, but the judges feel her overall dish lacks creativity and flavor.

Luke uses a number of other pantry ingredients in his Seared Skirt Steak with Roasted Mushrooms and Tot Crumble. Though the judges like his flavors, they question his light hand with some of the basket ingredients.

In spite of the other contestants’ mistakes, it is Rory’s lack of creativity that ultimately sends her home – though I personally feel that the judges did not appreciate her defensive attitude. I certainly was not a fan.

The Dessert Round: The two remaining contestants have 30 minutes to create a dessert using ingredients chosen via Twitter: kale, fruit cocktail, cottage cheese, and marrow bones.

Luke serves the judges Marrow Roasted Apples with Cottage Cheese Puree. After admitting to not liking dessert recipes at all (which is suspicious at best), it is not surprising to find that the judges think that his dish is more of a strange cheese plate than a dessert.

Tre puts together Cottage Cheese Panna Cotta and Bone Marrow Ganache, and while the judges feel that he made a good decision in combining the marrow with the chocolate, Scott declares the panna cotta to be “one of the worst things I’ve ever put in my mouth”.

After three rough rounds, the judges’ decision ultimately comes down to which finalist made the fewest errors, and Tre leaves the competition empty-handed – a decision which clearly surprised him, given his superiority complex.

Although the viewers’ choice baskets clearly made for a rough competition for contestants and judges alike, there is no denying that they certainly made for an interesting episode – and made me certain that I personally would not want to compete on this show. When it comes to this episode, I think Amanda Freitag put it best: “Good chefs have bad days, good chefs have bad baskets…”